A Commentary by Doug Draper
Posted March 25th, 2016 on Niagara At Large
While I was posting news of the Ontario government’s release this March 25th of its annual list of public sector employees making a yearly salary of $100,000 or more, I could already imagine some visitors to Niagara At Large saying; ‘Okay, but where are the names of the public sector employees in this region who are on the list?”
“How about doing what some of the mainstream newspapers in Niagara have already done since the release of the list and post at least some of the names?”
My short answer to that is that in the days and weeks ahead, Niagara At Large will be posting the names and salaries of at least a few individuals on the list, but only because of questions already swirling around about how these individuals got hired to the job they have in the public sector in the first place and whether or not we, the people, are getting value for the amount of our money they are pocketing for the services they provide.
Beyond using the information to help answer questions like that, I have always had mixed feelings about the Sunshine List or the ‘Public Sector Salary Disclosure’ list, as it is more formally called, and the way it is too often randomly or gratuitously used, without placing any of the names or salaries on it in a meaningful context, by the mainstream media.
One of the reasons for my mixed feelings has to do with the fact that the idea of publishing a list like this for public sector employees in Ontario originated in 1996 with the then recently elected Conservative government of Mike Harris, which came to power with a promise to privatize services and slash public sector jobs.
Releasing lists with thousands of names of people making $100,000 or more a year in government jobs – and doing it at a time when many working people in Ontario were losing their jobs in the wake of a recession and companies closing their plants here and moving to Mexico – added fuel to Harris’s anti-government steamroller while he rolled forward with an agenda modelled after what Margaret Thatcher got going in Britain a decade and a half earlier.
So the Harris government would release its list and someone who lost their job when Ford moved some of its production from a plant in Niagara Falls to Mexico would look a see a director for a regional public works department making more than a $100,000 a year and saying; ‘Yeh, get rid of that guy!’ Trouble is that if you looked over at Britian where Thatcher had already done it, the person now running a privatized water utility for a community was making four times more than the public works director here, and the infrastructure for treating and pumping water to homes in that British community was being so poorly looked after that the residents were being issued repeated boil water orders due to unsafe fecal counts.
Further to that, the public works director making four times less here was (and still is) not only responsible for operating the regional water system, but was and is also responsible for waste management services, the maintenance of roads and highways, and transit. But comparisons like that are not taken into account in making up these lists.
So there is very little hint of the amount of responsibility or possible personal or public liability if someone makes a mistake at a job reported along with the salary figures disclosed on these annual lists. And there are rarely ever any comparisons made to what the individual might be making if they held a similar position in the private sector.
What you more often get in media reports (as was the case in one Niagara area newspaper after the latest list came out) is a mention of those public sector employees in the region who have the highest salaries. For example, there was a reference to the fact that Niagara’s chief medical health officer Dr. Valerie Jaeger made $287,947, which may seem like a lot until you consider how much more other individuals are getting for running health systems across the province.
There was a time when Niagara’s regional government was not willing enough to pay enough for a chief health officer that it had trouble finding a doctor willing to leave a family practice or hospital system to do it. Do we want a qualified doctor at the health of a public health department in a region of more than 425,000 people or not? I am guessing that we do.
The Sunshine List shows long columns of individuals in certain categories of jobs, whether they be teachers, police officers, firefighters, nurses or whatever. But we get no idea of how qualified or competent each individual is in their job, and there certainly isn’t any disclosure of resumes or performance reviews.
Yet many of us know from our own experience that when it comes to teachers – just to use them as an example – there are some who are worth more than they are getting paid and there are some who should be fired. The same would be true for virtually every other job category on the list, but there is no indication of that there.
So you won’t find me drooling at the bit each spring when the Sunshine List comes out, although I will be using some of the information on it selectively and I hope most visitors to this site will agree, for justifiable reasons in the days and weeks ahead. For that stay tune.
In the meantime, if you believe I am wrong in feeling mixed about the list, please share your views below.
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